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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 20:04 GMT
Profile of Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown in the House of Commons
Gordon Brown has earned respect as chancellor
Nick Assinder

Chancellor Gordon Brown is often seen as a cold, machine-like politician obsessed by his job to the total exclusion of a "real" life.

That image started to crack when he finally wed his long-time girlfriend Sarah Macaulay almost 18 months ago, and it finally crumbled with the birth of his daughter.

For many, his reaction to the birth revealed a new, more human side to the chancellor - a side those close to him have always insisted was there.

For the first time it was patently clear that Mr Brown had something else in his life overwhelmingly more important to him than his career, and his joy was on display for all to see.

And the tragic death of his child will have obviously devastated both him and his wife who will receive the sympathy of the entire country in their grief.

This awful event is bound to have a profound effect on the chancellor and, inevitably, on British politics although such considerations are far from anyone's mind at the moment.

Political career

Few can doubt that it was Mr Brown's single-mindedness that brought him to the second most powerful job in government - and, according to his supporters - within an ace of the top job.

As chancellor, he has won widespread praise for securing Britain's economic stability and finding large amounts of cash to pour into the public services.

This is despite persistent suspicions that the rabbits he has regularly pulled out of his budget hat have been more illusory than real.

He has also managed to infuriate powerful groups with his unflinching adherence to policies which saw pensioners offered a mere 75p increase in 2000, and continued to hammer motorists.

Rebellions over those "errors" produced policy changes and Mr Brown managed to escape virtually unscathed.

Indeed, many complain that - since the departure of his controversial ex-spin doctor Charlie Whelan - he had become almost invisible between his big set-piece economic statements.

Defining relationship

But it is the relationship between the prime minister and the chancellor that has become a constant, underlying theme of the New Labour government.

Brown thinks Blair reneged on a deal over the leadership after former leader John Smith's death.

He now fears, with good reason, that Blair is also ready to abandon another alleged promise to stand down in his favour in the future.

Meanwhile there is the continuing division between the two men over Britain's entry into the single European currency.

What this has all meant is that New Labour regularly portrays itself as two factions - the Blairites and the Brownites.

Those backing Brown tend to be from the left, or Old Labour wing of the party, and are desperate to see him as the next leader, and prime minister.

Recalling the past

But the chancellor, while coming from a more traditional Labour background than the Prime Minister, is still clearly a New Labour beast.

He was behind some of the policies most hated by the left, particularly cutting benefits to the disabled.

It is only his tendency towards redistribution and the recent acknowledgement that taxes will have to rise to pay for improvements to public services that recall the past.

His ambitions have suffered recent setbacks. While helping mastermind the last election campaign, his glum image during the battle did little to endear himself to voters.

And Tony Blair's successes on the international stage have given the prime minister a new authority and strength within his government .

Despite that, Mr Brown is still seen by many as the man most likely to replace Mr Blair.

But at the moment the future must be uncertain and this is not the time to dwell on anything other than the tragedy which has befallen the chancellor and his wife.

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Scotland
Chancellor becomes a father
03 Aug 00 | UK
Joy as chancellor weds
02 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair-Brown 'pact' denied
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